Everyone has a general idea of the vital role emergency responders play throughout their communities; but there may be a layer to their lives that is far more dangerous than running through fire, administering CPR, or cutting a victim out of a gruesome car accident.
As Americans, we do a mighty fine job of showing appreciation and respect to our firefighters, in most cities. Citizens will notice a fire crew out to grab some lunch locally, and often step in to pay their bill; and that’s a beautiful thing. However, in many ways these men and women in uniform that you see around town are fighting battles you may never remotely think about.
For example, while most people realize that emergency responders are doing an honorable job, there are actually times when firefighters are faced with combative citizens they must overcome just to do their job. They deal with those under the influence that can become physically aggressive, and they’re often confronted with situations where the general public simply refuses to comply with their course of action just to keep everyone safe on the scene. These responders should never be treated with such disrespect, and it happens more and more with each passing year.
Firefighters don’t only report to fires; they also report to relatively every car accident you pass by, in addition to suicide calls, animal abuse calls, calls reporting to drug houses, safety calls in hoarder houses, and emergency calls that involve child abuse. Just picking one of those situations is more than what any person should ever witness during their career, much less all of them, and often in multiple calls in one shift.
Now imagine the calls first responders attend to where for whatever reason, they weren’t able to save their patients or victims. Let that sink in for a few minutes; what that might trigger mentally, emotionally, and even physically for literally the rest of one’s career. If you think that these heroes have some magical ability to not carry these tragedies home with them, you’d be in the wrong.
Picture going on a call that involves a child then going home that night to see your own children. Thankful that their children are alive and well? That goes without saying, but it doesn’t just evaporate from their memories, and spouses of firefighters can play a crucial role identifying these emotions.
Experts reveal these are just some symptoms of firefighter PTSD to watch out for:
- Not enjoying normal activities
- Eating and/or sleeping problems
- Being aloof, quiet, or asking to be alone more than usual
- Snapping or becoming angry quickly, engaging in frequent arguments
- May experience feelings of mistrust
- Anger or rage
If you find that your spouse has developed some of the aforementioned behaviors, then please respond to these symptoms with compassion. I realize that sounds self-explanatory, but couples don’t always communicate properly, especially when they’re hurting, causing riffs in the marriage and resentment. Remember that this is someone you love and adore; you certainly don’t ever want to belittle their emotions that are as a result of years spent witnessing tragedies. Instead, start by trying to engage in a safe conversation with them to identify if career induced PTSD is the case. If you aren’t having much luck, or your partner is defensive with the discussion, then look into the possibility of getting professional therapy for them as well as you both, as a married unit. You need to be properly informed on how to handle their state of mind at home just as much as they may need insight on how to move past their stress.
The folks at Aljazeera America agree that this problem is becoming one heck of an epidemic. In the United States alone, firefighters are three times as likely to pass away as a result of suicide versus in the line of duty. Three times as likely! That’s a very telling statistic, and one that cannot be ignored. Is there a way to prevent firefighter PTSD?
There will always be certain best practices that can be taught, but overall there has to be commitment on both sides of the fence; uniting department life with home life as one cohesive partnership. Coworkers can look out for the signs of PTSD just as easily as spouses; after all their coworkers are like brothers and sisters to them. They don’t just punch a time clock and sit in a cubicle next to someone for 8 hours a day. They live at the station together, they share meals together, and most importantly, they look after one another’s safety in every single call they go on. That comradery has saved a lot of lives within their respective departments, but we all need to be vigilant on this issue.
If you’re the spouse of a firefighter and you feel that your husband or wife is developing PTSD, set up a meeting with someone at the department. Realizing this may be an awkward conversation for you, it can very well save your spouse’s life; much less your marriage in many cases. Firefighters commonly have pride weighing heavily on their minds; a lot of pride, and it may even upset your spouse that you went to their coworker about their state of mind, but this is where so many don’t take that plunge. Couples don’t want to fight, they don’t want to get the department involved, and then all of a sudden it’s too late and guess what? The entire department ends up finding out the firefighter was suffering from PTSD anyway. Save yourself the time mulling it over. If your spouse has drastically changed and he or she appears to have any shred of mental health challenges, don’t doubt yourself, just go tell someone in a position to help.
Find someone at the department that your spouse trusts, or knows well. Doesn’t have to be a Chief, it can be a Lieutenant, or Captain; anyone to start building a support system for your spouse immediately. The department is just as invested in your spouse’s wellbeing as you are; they do not want them harming themselves, or even becoming injured on a call due to PTSD anxiety. Most fire departments have resources and protocol set in place for this exact situation to start getting their firefighters the help they need, and usually it can equate professional therapy totally free of charge.
Firefighters deal with death, abuse, and trauma in ways that leave one heck of a mental footprint in their memories. Do not hesitate to act if this article sounds all too familiar. Act quickly by speaking to your spouse or the department and utilize the following links for additional resources: